In Lakota, watȟéča means leftovers—sort of. Specifically, watȟéča refers to the food you take home following a communal feast. It is what remains—picked over, left behind, decided against. Left to inertia, such detritus is doomed to decay. If not for the scavenger.
Scavengers relish what the world rejects. Always on the lookout, ever-ready to snatch watȟéča from the jaws of oblivion, the scavenger eats what no one else wants, assigning ultimate value to what is on the brink of vanishing.
As the landscape is pressured on all sides, scavengers scrounge in order to thrive against disappearance—navigating environmental encroachment and collapse, loss of habitat, mass industrial extraction, and ecocidal expansion.
Coyotes roaming the outskirts of urban centers. Vultures circling truck stops. Countless creatures stubbornly and ingeniously surviving on what is considered obsolete to everyone else.
Is their capacity to survive and adapt similar to our own? And what discarded wisdom might they impart to us? These are guiding questions embedded within Cannupa Hanska Luger’s Watȟéča.
Reflecting on these themes, Luger states: “In many ways, Indigenous experience in the twenty-first century is a form (practice? art? life?) of watȟéča—surviving off leftovers. Our land has been seized. Our customs dismantled. Our ways of life denigrated. Our stories and languages made all but invisible in the context of the narratives dominating public life and discourse. We survive on what’s left.”
Watȟéča is another installment in Luger’s ever-evolving Future Ancestral Technologies project, a world-making myth-work of Indigenous futurism. One of a myriad of different characters both mythic and real populating an imaginal terrain set in a distant future, the buzzard regalia created and worn for Watȟéča is meant to evoke and embody the blessings and lessons of the scavenger.
In Luger’s own words: “The survivance of Indigenous people in relationship to scrounging is represented in my movements and in the regalia themselves which were built out of found material.”
By engaging scavenger creatures from a mythic, even ritual perspective, Watȟéča invites us to appreciate their ethos and elevate it through performance, celebrating their gifts and integrating them into our cosmology.
This mythopoetic maneuver is a central feature of Luger’s Future Ancestral Technologies: “Creating (counter)cultural characters or symbols that aren’t yet part of our present, but that we might begin to recognize as kindred for building any number of possible futures.”
In these times of planetary upheaval, dispersal, and devastation—all in the name of power and “progress”—such industrious and resourceful creatures, often maligned as derelict and disgusting by the misguided among us, may prove to be just the models and allies we need to survive.
There is a valuable lesson in the nature of the scavenger. They thrive by destroying death. Immune to the diseases of rotting flesh. A final dance for living bodies is to be torn apart completely. Scavengers transform endings into beginnings, celebrating life after death. A pivotal component to rejuvenate life’s cycles. Sheltering the living from the intricacies of death’s omnivorous annihilation. Nothing shall be wasted by the scavengers because to them nothing is waste. —Cannupa Hanska Luger
Production Assistance by Ginger Dunnill
Cannupa Hanska Luger is a multidisciplinary artist and an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes of Fort Berthold (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota descent). Through monumental installations and social collaboration, Luger activates speculative fiction and communicates stories about twenty-first century Indigeneity—combining critical cultural analysis with dedication and respect for the diverse materials, environments, and communities he engages. He lectures and produces large-scale projects around the globe and his works are in many public collections. Luger is the recipient of various awards, including a 2021 United States Artists Fellowship Award for Craft, and the Museum of Arts and Design’s 2018 inaugural Burke Prize. He was a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, a 2020 Creative Capital Fellow, a 2020 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow, and was named a 2021 GRIST Fixer.